Don't even think of going to see Deconstructing Harry if you hate Woody Allen. Not even if you're crazy about Demi Moore (it's a fully-clothed, blink-and-you'll-miss-her appearance anyway). Or if you're a devoted fan of Robin Williams (he does have slightly more screen time, but he's literally out of focus). And especially not if you're one of those stick-in-the-mud Allen fans who loved his earlier, funny films, because Deconstructing Harry is more Stardust Memories than Sleeper. It's a return to angst-ridden, pyschotherapist territory after the joyous, `tuneless' frivolity of last year's ennui-heavy sing-a-long, Everyone Says I Love You.
The plot is a slender sliver of a story. Writer Harry Block is trying to resolve his addiction to prostitutes and his love for ex-girlfriend Fay (Elizabeth Shue), having pissed off his friends and former lovers by including them in his thinly-fictionalised novels. What fleshes out this flimsy narrative are the dramatisations of some of his stories - the film star (Robin Williams) who thinks he's losing his focus is fading into soft-focus; a born-again Jew (Demi Moore) who gives thanks for everything from bread to oral sex; and a blind grandmother who mistakes a couple's love-pumping for culinary chores.
The line between reality and imagination is constantly blurred, as happened in Allen's masterpiece Annie Hall. Characters spill over from Harry's fiction into fact, while some scenes spark off memories of his previous movies (Husbands And Wives and Mighty Aphrodite to name two). And yet again, Woody leaves himself open to the criticism that he's just playing himself under a different name as he surrounds himself with beautiful women. Even if this time, as the angst-choked, edgy, self-hating, unrepentant Block, he seems to be far more aware of the comparisons than he usually is.
Deconstructing Harry is a darker film, and in terms of style and theme we've been down this road before, yet it's still a 95-minute conveyer belt for some ingenious and witty sequences. The segment involving a car journey, a kidnapped son, a dead body and a leggy hooker in hot pants is vintage Allen, while there's also a surreal, Star Wars-obsessed wedding, where the tables are decorated with Darth Vader masks and the waitresses come dressed as Stormtroopers.
The fact that there's never been so much bad language in a Woody Allen film (Block's aggrieved girlfriend, played by Judy Davis, packs more four-letter insults into a few minutes than Martin Scorsese manages in a whole movie), is a lame argument for the suggestion that the director is breaking new ground. He isn't.
But this angst-comedy is like a fine wine for those who have a taste for it, and Deconstructing Harry is an embarrassment of Allen-inspired riches (so many funny scenes, so many dazzling cameos, so many witty one-liners) that never disappoints.